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Cruise Operators and COVID-19: Deep Bruising and Potential Recovery

Before the global COVID-19 outbreak, the cruise industry was sailing smooth seas. Even though the virus could bring about many long-term and permanent changes on the sector and the timeline for the return to cruising is still up in the air, it will eventually flourish again.

For the past eight months, operators have not had to worry about fuel costs, weather, economic cycles, foreign currency rates, foreign port availability, the limited number of usable shipyards, and international regulatory restrictions.

While some are anticipating a near return to cruising the beautiful Caribbean Sea, Royal Caribbean’s second-quarter revenue plunged 94% from a year ago, while Carnival Corp.’s revenue for the quarter ended May 31 tumbled 85%.

However, Dr. William Lang, chief medical officer of WorldClinic and former director of the White House Medical Unit, believes that ships could be leaving port in the near future.

“What has been demonstrated time and time again, from various outbreaks and epidemics, is that people have a short memory,” he said.

In 2019, Royal Caribbean’s stock was able to reach a record close on Jan. 17 despite gastroenteritis outbreaks, the Trump Administration’s ban on cruises to Cuba, rising fuel costs after attacks on oil refineries, and remnants of Hurricane Dorian.

Although the obvious fear of COVID-19 will likely drive down bookings for future cruises, Lang is confident that the long-term effects of the pandemic will pass. “People will tend to forget about it. It’s a time-limited phenomenon on cruises,” he said.

Despite this short-term phenomenon, the CDC announced the extension of its “No Sail Order” through Sept. 30. These orders followed data showing there were 99 outbreaks of COVID-19, or COVID-like illness cases, on 123 cruise ships during the period of March 1 through July 10.

According to Royal Caribbean Chief Executive Richard Fain, there is still a lot of uncertainty.

While bookings for 2021 are “trending well,” many cruise companies are considering many changes in how passengers are boarded and to the onboard experience, to make their guests feel safer.

Some operators are even considering removing a longtime favorite of cruisers, the buffet.

Since the long-term effects of COVID-19 are still uncertain, there is no set schedule for the return of major cruise operators. While Costa Cruises is planning to gradually restart operations on Sept. 6, its Holland America line is extending its halt on cruises through December.

As for other major operators, passenger safety will be the ultimate guide for relaunching cruises around the world.

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